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Despite drama, MN grandmaster takes 3rd at US chess championships


Wesley So's first foray into the U.S. chess championship ended Sunday with the Minnetonka man in third place.

So – ranked the No. 8 player in the world – finished with 6.5 points through his 11 rounds. The champion, 27-year-old Hikaru Nakamura, finished with 8.0 points.

So, 21, entered the tournament with high hopes, despite his relative lack of experience. But his run was punctuated by a costly forfeit, and hampered, So says, by unexpected family affairs.

The forfeit

In the ninth round, So missed out on adding to his total score when he was required to forfeit the match due to a rules violation.

That infraction? Writing a letter to himself.

Here's his public explanation.

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So’s opponent Varuzhan Akobian told Rappler that he had been put off by So’s note-writing, saying: “He was probably writing things to encourage himself, but it disturbed me.”

According to the tournament's website, Chief Arbiter Tony Rich said So had been given warnings twice in earlier rounds for the same thing, making Friday's offense So's third of the tournament.

The decision was greeted with shock by many in the chess world. collected some of the most interesting social media reactions.

One of the reasons he may have had trouble concentrating? A surprise appearance by his estranged, biological mother.

'I am uncomfortable around you'

So, a native of the Philippines, was fostered by Minnesotans Lotis Key and Renato Kabigting in 2014, Lake Minnetonka Magazine explains. He'd won the $100,000 Millionaire’s Open, and decided to drop out of Webster University in St. Louis and pursue a career in chess full-time.

His birth mother, however, showed up in St. Louis (the site of the tournament) just before play started, the Star Tribune reported.

That led to several “strident encounters,” the paper reports, which his foster family says has thrown him off his game.

"It diverted a lot of energy from the board when I should be focusing on my game,” So told the newspaper after the forfeit.

His mother also spoke to the chess news website Chessdom in an article posted Sunday, saying her son was "very happy" to see her. Later that night, So wrote a lengthy response on his Facebook page, calling his mother's claims "sad, ridiculous and completely untrue."

He continued:

"I am uncomfortable around you. You want me to respect you but you have never respected me. You left me when I was sixteen, telling me to become a man and find my life. Well I have found it, you just don’t like it."

So's future

Despite the turmoil, So's future in the chess world appears to be bright.

He's the eighth-youngest grandmaster in the entire world, and the chess championship's website says he's considered a "prodigy" in the game.

And the Facebook group Chess Club Live highlighted the positives: So had six wins, the most out of anybody. And while dealing with the four "painful" losses, as well as the rule about taking notes, he's learned a lot he can take into future tournaments.

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